Donkey Kong Country Returns

Donkey Kong started out as a bad guy simply because he gives into raw, primitive instincts.  In other words, he behaves like a gorilla.

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Publisher: Nintendo
Players: 1-2
Price: $49.99
Platform: Wii
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: Retro Studios
Release Date: 2010-11-21

Donkey Kong, Nintendo's iconic ape, was originally a villain, and he occupies a strange space in Nintendo's cast of bad guys.  As Mario's first antagonist, Donkey Kong wasn't designed to be a particularly likeable character.  Rather, he was just a big animal that tried to kidnap a girl.  In Donkey Kong Jr., Mario served as Donkey Kong's captor, and the titular protagonist tried to free him, but it would be difficult to say that either Mario or Donkey Kong served as the villain.   What sets Donkey Kong apart from other Nintendo baddies are his motivations.  Bowser's role as a villain stems from his desire to conquer an entire kingdom.  Wario's is born of enormous greed. Donkey Kong started out as a bad guy simply because he gives into raw, primitive instincts.  In other words, he behaves like a gorilla.

Nintendo does a good job, however, of making their villains likeable on the basis of their oversized personality traits -- if not humanizing them, then at least making them adorable comic foils.  Indeed, it is exactly his base urges that turned Kong into a hero in Donkey Kong Country, his first foray into legitimate protagonist territory. He wasn't attempting to save a princess, much less an entire kingdom. But as his stash of food was stolen, he would do anything to get it back.

Released in 1994, Donkey Kong Country seemed an effort to prove that the 16-bit SNES could compete with the up and coming 32-bit systems.  Indeed, Rare turned many heads with their groundbreaking graphics technique that used sprites originally modeled in full 3D. Donkey Kong Country was a bona fide hit and spawned two well regarded sequels.

Retro Studios made its name with Metroid Prime, an unheralded studio entrusted with reinventing one of Nintendo's core properties. Indeed, with the entire Metroid Prime trilogy, Retro demonstrated its ability to work hand in hand with Nintendo as its “go to” second party developer, a role left vacant with the departure of Rare.  It seems fitting, then, that after thoroughly exploring the Metroid universe in the Prime trilogy and with the Metroid reins (most recently at least_ in the capable hands of Team Ninja, Retro should be tasked with revisiting the Donkey Kong Country trilogy made famous by Rare so long ago.

Unlike their approach on Metroid Prime, Retro chose not to introduce a new presentational style to Donkey Kong Country Returns.  Like its predecessors, this is a solid, old-school platformer through and through.  DKCR is legitimately difficult, noticeably more so than New Super Mario Bros Wii, and later levels will absolutely test even the most seasoned platforming veterans, particularly if 100 percent completion is a goal.

Donkey Kong Country Returns is chock full of secrets from puzzle pieces to the familiar "K", "O", "N", and "G" letters, and finding all these items is no easy task.  In terms of presentation, the title impresses both visually and aurally.  Returns doesn't have the same jawdropping effect that Donkey Kong Country did in its day, but it is able to take advantage of vastly improved hardware to present an all around great looking game.  The soundtrack of Donkey Kong Country remains fairly iconic, and Returns does a fantastic job of evoking the original.

However, DKCR contains both positive and negative changes from previous entries in the series.  Likely in an effort to make the aforementioned difficulty more palatable, Retro has introduced both health bars and checkpoints to the series.  These additions are welcome, as they make the game far less frustrating than it might otherwise be.  However, the removal of Diddy Kong as a playable character in single player is unfortunate.  While Diddy maintains a presence in the game as a mechanism for Donkey Kong's hover jump, it would have been much more satisfying to be able to play as him either in levels specifically designed for Diddy or via the ability to freely switch between the characters.

The other problem with the game is the controls, and it may be a deal breaker for some.  While both sideways Wiimote and nunchuck controls are supported, motion controls are required for some of Donkey Kong's moves, and no matter how you slice it, pulling these moves off in the context of a demanding platformer is awkward at best. Indeed there are instances where it's downright infuriating.  The lack of support for either the classic and Gamecube controllers is extraordinarily puzzling, and I sincerely hope a sequel (should it appear) makes those options available.

Overall, though, it's impossible to deny the care that went into creating Donkey Kong Country Returns and the overall level of quality of the final product.  This is just a fun, great looking game with hardcore and crossover appeal.  I don't feel the criticisms I have of it are nitpicky, but they certainly do not detract from the overall experience.  Donkey Kong Country Returns is highly recommended for fans of the original series and newcomers to Donkey Kong platformers alike.  This is a true sequel and a worthy update to bring the Donkey Kong Country franchise to the current console generation.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.